HOUSTON – A hostile work environment has been a longtime problem for military contractor KBR Inc., which failed to protect workers who were sexually assaulted or harassed, said an attorney for a woman who claims she was raped by co-workers in Iraq.
Jamie Leigh Jones, 26, is one of several female contract workers for KBR and its former parent Halliburton Co. who claim they were sexually assaulted or harassed while working for the companies in Iraq. Jones says she was raped in 2005 while working for KBR at Camp Hope, Baghdad. She has sued the company, Halliburton and a former KBR firefighter she says was one of her rapists.
Her attorney, L. Todd Kelly, said Tuesday in his opening statement that as far back as 1998, KBR created a hostile working environment in which employees who were sexually assaulted or harassed were scared into not reporting what happened to them or fired while their harassers were promoted and protected by the company.
"KBR did a lot to keep this secret," Kelly said. "KBR doesn't take care of its people."
Kelly told jurors that Jones asked to be transferred to Iraq after being sexually harassed by a supervisor in Houston. Once overseas, she endured "catcalls" from men in the predominantly male barracks where she lived, he said.
Jones' lawsuit says that on July 28, 2005, she was drugged with what she believes was Rohypnol and then raped in her room by former KBR firefighter Charles Bortz and several others. She said the rape left her severely bruised, ruptured her breast implants and tore her pectoral muscles.
The Associated Press usually doesn't identify people alleging sexual assault, but Jones' face and name have been broadcast in media reports and on her own website.
Kelly told jurors that Jones reported the rape to KBR officials, who placed her under armed guard, held her in a shipping container for hours and wouldn't allow her to make a phone call. Jones was able to convince one of the guards to let her use his phone, and she called her father in the United States.
Jones' father contacted Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, who helped get her released, Kelly said. Jones is originally from Conroe, about 40 miles north of Houston.
Andrew McKinney, one of Bortz's attorneys, told jurors his client and Jones had consensual sex. Bortz has filed a countersuit against Jones that the jury also will decide at the trial.
Attorneys for KBR also were scheduled to present their opening statements. Daniel Hedges, one of the attorneys for KBR and Halliburton, has previously said the companies "welcome the opportunity to present what really happened in Iraq." The Houston-based companies split in 2007.
KBR and Halliburton had contended Jones' case should be settled through arbitration as stipulated in her contract. But an appeals court let her lawsuit, first filed in 2007, go to trial.
Due in part to Jones' case, federal lawmakers in 2009 approved a measure prohibiting contractors and subcontractors that receive $1 million in funds from the Department of Defense from requiring employees to resolve sexual assault allegations and other claims through arbitration.
The trial could last up to three weeks.